When the Tonight Show moved its base of operations from New York to Los Angeles in 1972, the world of comedy was completely upended. Instead of working out their routines at NY nightclubs, any up-and-coming comedian worth his salt had to relocate to LA as well. Why? Because, in those days the Tonight Show was considered an unavoidable rite-of-passage for any comic who aspired to bigger things like Vegas, record albums or TV and movie stardom. The stars who received Johnny Carson's nod of approval, were often invited back and would eventually become household names in their own right. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Robin Williams and others would all be beneficiaries of the move in years to come.
In order to get `discovered', these comics needed a platform to woodshed their material and to get in the field-of-view of the show's cadre of talent scouts.
Enter the Comedy Store.
As a reporter for the Comedy Beat of the prodigious Los Angeles Times, Bill Knoedelseder had a ringside seat for the development of the LA comedy scene emerging at the Sunset Strip nightery as well as it's Melrose counterpart, Budd Friedman's Improv. Between the two clubs passed nearly all of the renowned comedians of the 70s thru 90s. Richard Pryor, Jimmie Walker, Leno, Williams, Andy Kaufman, Sam Kinison, Richard Lewis, Elayne Boosler and dozens more all worked out at the club in it's heyday.
Trouble was, the club's legendary owner, Mitzi Shore (yes, Pauly's mom) never believed in paying the talent. "It's a showcase room," Shore would insist, not a place for comedians to earn a living. Eventually, Shore's policy would blow up in her face as the comics formed their own `union' and tried to boycott the club in an effort to gain at least a meager stipend from the dictatorial Shore.
It is, in fact, the story of the Comedy Store and it's remuneration policy that takes up the bulk of Knoedelseder's book. Nearly every detail of the strike is outlined here including the suicidal death of despondent comedian Steve Lubetkin, who jumped off the roof of the Hyatt Hotel next door to the club in a fit of depression.
All in all, Knoedelseder's account of the LA comedy scene of the era is as complete as one could ever expect from a book on the subject. The fact that there is not much humor in a book about comedy is a bit lacking, but perhaps given the psychological profile often associated with comedians, not such a surprise.